I got this car at an auction for accident damaged and repossessed cars. It was involved in a light frontal impact, which damaged the bonnet, fenders and bumper. One tyre was also blown out. Hence, it is hard to say if the above problems were caused by the accident the previous owner had or not. I would say the bearings and the lower control arms and maybe some of the loose wiring fall into this category, but not the relay or alternator.
I'm generally very pleased with this car; my previous cars were Toyotas, old model Passats and Golfs, and the Alfa simply blows them out of the water in nearly all aspects.
The car is a pre-facelift model. The design has dated well, and it combines a squarish shape with organic cues that wrap the body up as a single unit. Giugiaro used subtle effects, such as the gentle arch where the skirts would be, to give it an understated muscular look. It still looks good in a crowded parking lot.
The interior I feel is driver oriented and the soft curvy layout is easy on the eye. The seats are black leather with sewn red logos; stylish and very comfortable. The interior finish is quite good, except for the fuse box cover which tends to fall out, a small design fault of this model. I've screwed mine in. Frankly I've traveled in recent C-series Mercedes, and the 156 is on par with that.
The overall quality of the body panels is good. The paint is pretty thick, and I noticed that the exposed areas on the scrapped bonnet did not rust in several months of rain, Alfa galvanised it properly. No more 1980's rusty Alfa horror stories.
The car drives very well. The steering is super sharp and responsive and the car is grippy, although with a slight tendency to tramline on road ruts.
The Twinspark engine is great. Plenty of power, and an engine note that is best described as addictive. I would have given a higher performance rating, but after getting a taste of my girlfriend's 156 V6, one has to realise that they're not really in the same league.
Fuel economy is not so great, but I suspect that this is because of my driving style (all the traffic just seems s l o w, out of the way, sluggards!) rather than due to the engine being thirsty. I know it has been said before, but one really looks forward to going places if you are driving this car.
The ride is excellent on a good road surface, but jittery if the surface is uneven. My old Passat has a far better ride over rough surfaces. I suppose one can't have everything.
The Selespeed gearbox is a defining characteristic of the car. Put it in "city" mode and it travels like an automatic. Otherwise it is semi-automatic, via either the stickshift or buttons on the steering wheel. So far no dreaded Selespeed problems. The system is quite good when you get used to it, and there are some pleasant moments to be had when the system gears down automatically in a corner and you whoosh out of it on a surge of power. *grin* Not so fun, however, is the annoying "stuck in second" syndrome. The Selespeed does not gear down to first unless you are at a dead stop or until you tell it to. This can be somewhat hair-raising at busy intersections when you need to scoot across a robot, and you've been slowly rolling up to it. Oncoming traffic. Second gear. No power. Help! The trick is to remember this quirk and manually gear down before attempting such maneuvers.
Finally, running costs are rather high. What I suspect happens with Alfas is, because they are often great bargains second hand, they are bought by people who can't afford the maintenance. They neglect it and the car bites them. Then we hear about "Alfa" reliability problems. Uh, no. One has to expect to pay BMW type prices for spares, and unless you have a creative mechanic, there aren't many pirate parts available unlike for Toyotas for example. Services will be a bit of a shock if you are used to Toyotas and older Golfs. The way I see it, is that the money I saved on the purchase price, can go towards running costs.
Overall, I love this car, and am well pleased with it.